V. Ogrysko. Speech at the Conference "Formulating new foreign policy approaches towards Russia" Washington, Congress, November 13, 2014


Volodymyr Ogrysko Articles

Let me propose that we start our discussion with the issue of global security. This is central to understanding the current situation and it holds the key to all the other questions. Including the question of how to deal with today's Russia.

Let me begin by thanking the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding for their initiative in organizing this conference. It is very timely and thus all the more important.

 

The world today faces the gravest challenge to the framework of International agreements that was methodically crafted in the decades following World War II. This legal framework for international relations has governed our economic and global security relations for nearly seventy years. Just how robust is it?

 

Where are we?

 

Let me propose that we start our discussion with the issue of global security. This is central to understanding the current situation and it holds the key to all the other questions. Including the question of how to deal with today's Russia.

 

In my humble opinion, when speaking of global security we have to be honest with ourselves: we have reached a dead end. More and more often we hear statements like global security has been disrupted, or it is threatened, or it has collapsed. But let us step back for a moment and ask a very simple and direct question: did a system of globai security ever exist?

 

This is not a hypothetical question. I speak from the perspective of a country that signed, in good faith, a security agreement with five of the largest nuclear powers in the world.

 

So I pose the question: does a system of global security really exist?

 

I believe that it does not and that such system was never in place. What existed was a balance of mutual fear, a co-existence of antagonistic states and their respective alliances.

 

What would a true security system consist of? A real, fully functional system that produces results, as opposed to a theoretical construct, must be organized along three necessary principles: common values, common goals, and joint actions.

 

Have the UN, for example, and later the OSCE, been constructs that united their members in accordance with such principles? I would maintain that this was never the case. At least one of those three necessary requirements was always missing. Hence these systems, while outwardly comforting and politically expedient, were ineffective on both global and regional levels. Whatever services they have provided safeguarding the security of their members has not been one. The number of wars in the post World War II period alone serves as undeniable proof of this premise.

 

Were other international instruments, bilateral or multilateral, more successful in safeguarding security? The answer is again no. A prime example is the Budapest Agreement Ukraine signed in exchange for relinquishing our nuclear arsenal.

 

To sum up, unfortunately none of the security instruments (neither the global - UN, nor the regional - OSCE or individual - the Budapest Memorandum for Ukraine) proved to be effective. Therefore I ask you - what global security system can we speak of? There is

 

 

 

none. It seems pointless to fuss over the collapse of a global security system that never really existed.

 

How did we get here?

 

How did we get to such a state? I recognize that it is a common human trait to succumb to myths and perpetuate illusions. We can be near sighted and conveniently absent minded. We tend to overlook the obvious and filter out bothersome details too quickly.

 

Why is that? Because it is convenient and comforting. Because it is so much easier to look past the problems that confront us than to deal with them. This is how we created an illusion of security. But this is not a responsible approach.

 

Postponing real solutions simply shifts the responsibility to future generations. This unwillingness of politicians to act responsibly has become a global phenomenon. But that is a topic for another day.

 

Obviously there comes a time when the indecisions of yesterday exact a price. For many of us such a time has come today. We are paying the price in Ukraine today with the lives of soldiers and civilians resisting the invasion from Russia. Our neighbours in the Baltic and in Eastern Europe have to reassess their security needs. Even Western Europe has lost a great deal of independence, security and self-respect as a result of its dependence on gas and corrupting financial dealings with Russia. The reckoning is inevitable.

 

There were many in the West who early on realised with whom they were dealing in the USSR. Churchill's Fulton speech serves as a proof of this. Soviet actions in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Afghanistan, Russian support of terrorist regimes in third-world countries, suppressions of speech and religion, the arms race were all evidence of Russia's global designs and despotic tendencies. All of these were ample proof that Russia was not a partner but at minimum a strategic enemy of western values.

 

We, Ukrainians, forced to live in this horrible system understand better than others the true meaning of life in their "Russkiy Mir". Ukrainians paid a very heavy price in the course of our experience in that "Russian World" -- millions of lives lost in the genocidal Holodomor famine, millions lost during World War II, millions exiled to the Gulags, hundreds of thousands of prisoners of conscience. We fought as best we could. The battles were terribly uneven but morality was on our side and eventually the "Evil Empire" crumbled.

 

This was a welcomed outcome in the West. But you made a huge strategic error. You wanted to believe that Russia could simply morph into a democracy. You pumped billions of dollars into this mirage, and lost over two decades of time not comprehending that this would be in vain.

 

Why? Let me suggest that most observers in the West do not comprehend Russia. You simply do not understand her. There is a tendency to see Russia, as you would like her to be. To those of us who have experienced Russian "fraternity" your leaders often resemble children who believe in fairy tales. That was the case with President George Bush, Sr and Prime Minister Thatcher who both believed in Gorbachov's USSR. President Bush even travelled to Kyiv to advise Ukrainians not to seek their long awaited independence. Incredibly naive. Likewise Helmut Kohl was willing to accept Russian status quo. But at least he got the re-unification of Germany in return. Kohl sees no problems with Russia to this day. Paradoxically, Gorbachov the "reformer" of yesterday, is an avid apologist for Putin today.

 

Understanding Russia

 

For obvious reasons we must deal with Russia, but not on her terms. To do so requires a thorough understanding of Russia based on facts and not on a century of Russian propaganda.

 

Let me share two quotes with you. Their authors are not Ukrainians. The first:

 

"The cradle of Muscovy lies not in the rude glory of the Norman epoch, but rather in the bloody bogs of Muscovy's slavery. A simple substitution of names and dates shows that the policies of Ivan III, and the policies of the modern Russian Empire are not just similar but identical. ...

 

Even when Russia became independent she remained a nation of slaves. ... Ru$si$'s policies are unchanging ... the guiding star of Russian policy - conquer the world and rule - is and will remain constant. Russian pan-Slavism is only one form of Russian conquest."

 

The quote is from Karl Marx in Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century. Not a source I usually quote.

 

The second quote comes from Victor Hugo, writing on the Russian monarch. Hugo says he is an "omnipotent monster, who holds in one hand the cross ending in a sword, and in the other a scepter, that serves as the handle of a lash." He is "a despot, an autocrat, who harms entire nations on personal whim. "

 

These words were written in the 19th century. Ask the neighbours of Russia if anything has changed since then? Look back at the 20th Century, drawing on your own experiences, has anything changed? And now look at the past twenty years, the start of a new century, a new millennium. Has Russia changed?

 

Unfortunately, it has not. What is really difficult to understand is that so many in the West still refuse to acknowledge this. There appears to be a lack of strategic understanding on how to build relationships with Russia. There are no visionaries here. There are only tacticians. Decisions are made in an ever-shifting environment to satisfy political needs from one election to the next. This is a losing proposition.

 

The lack of a strategic understanding of Russia leads to policies and actions based on faulty premises that cannot produce desirable results.

 

Allow me to share some of the premises that guide my views on relations with Russia.

1 - Russia is not part of the North Atlantic civilized space. Putin talks about Russia as being a "country-civilization". Lavrov underscores the distinctions between Russia and the

 

West "in ideology, historical experience and traditions", that Russia doesn't want to join the EU, etc. It's difficult to understand why nobody in the West listens to these clearly stated views. Mr. Lavrov enjoys much respect and deference in the West as Russia's Foreign Minister. In that case, heed his words - he speaks for the Russian government.

  1. - Russia views the West as a traditional adversary and enemy (in times of crisis, as now for example, Moscow is quite open about this; the trouble is that too many in the West fall back to their illusions about a "partnership" with Russia.)

  2. - Russia views Western values as foreign and it aims to oppose their spread in order to promulgate its own.

  3. - Aggression against Ukraine - this not only aggression against Ukraine, but against Western values. The nearer to Russia Western values take root the greater the intensity of chauvinism and aggression from Moscow.

How to respond to Russia

Once you understand Russia, the question becomes - how to respond to Russia? The answer depends on what aims we wish to achieve in maintaining relations with Russia. In that regard we should establish some short-term goals and longer term objectives.

In the short term it is imperative that we stop Russia expansionism. From Moldova to Georgia to Ukraine, empty threats, diplomatic bargaining, and meaningless demarches have rewarded Russian aggression. Time and again Russia has violated international laws. In the modern world it is accepted that law breaking is met with appropriate punishment. If we expect the nations of the world to abide by the international order then Russia must be subjected to harsh punitive measures. Frozen bank accounts and travel restrictions are insufficient. They simply provide Putin and his cohort with fuel to fire up dangerous levels of chauvinism in Russia. Russia must be isolated as the pariah it has chosen to become.

Further, Russia respects only strength. Ukraine is engaged in a war with Russia, not by choice, but out of necessity. We have fought against Russian aggression for centuries, usually in very uneven battles. We need your help to level the field of battle today. We are outnumbered and out gunned. But Western military equipment could help to even this newest battle. Why have the US and Europe cut us off from this life saving equipment? What is the moral justification? More illusions?

In the long term we must reshape our alliances to create a truly functioning security system. We need a system with a global perspective but operating on regional bases.

The Grand Western Alliance would encompass the current NATO countries, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other Asian and European countries that share the common principles necessary for such an alliance: democratic government, free market economies and common security interests. Unifying principles, security planning and strategy would be developed at the plenary level while implementation would be coordinate at the local and regional level.

 

I can see competing alliances organized around China and it's client states and another Eurasian alliance centered on Russia and her client states. These groupings are already in various stages of formation.

I don't see a long-term future for the Eurasian alliance because it is driven by Russia's view of the world not by its allies. The Russian World is so repressive that it must be sustained by the power and wealth of the central state. Russian adventurism in Ukraine has already damaged the Russian economy to the point that they are having difficulty meeting the fuel and food requirements of the small Crimean population they annexed with such great fanfare a few months ago. The recent downturn in gas and oil prices has also shaken their petro-economy. That unstable source of revenue together with the kleptocracy that rules Russia has exposed a strategic weakness of the Russian state. It cannot survive as structured in the long term. But this does not mean that Russia is not a dangerous actor on the international scene. To the contrary, because it is unstable its rulers can lash out at any time to retain their hold on power.

A Grand Western Alliance is all the more necessary today and for the long term.

 

Conclusion

Let me now summarize my conclusions.

First - in order to properly deal with Russia one needs to really understand Russia. Or at least make an attempt to do so.

Second - we have to methodically study Russia. In no way do I want to question the work of today's Western think tanks, but in my opinion they have two drawbacks. First - they tend to be too academic; second - very few Western researchers understand the Russian mentality. It is my understanding that during the Cold War Russian studies were much more systematically pursued in the West than they are today.

Third - we have to urgently realize the need of having a new center of Russia studies. It should be established not here, in the US nor in Western Europe. It needs to be in Ukraine, because we understand Russia's mentality much better than anywhere else in the West. Certainly to produce comprehensive research one should foster coordination between both: Western think tanks and those in Ukraine dealing with Russia.

My fourth conclusion - there must be a reconsideration of the West's expectations in its relations with Russia. Will this be a US vision and a separate European vision? Will Russia be allowed to further divide and conquer? Accordingly we will need to develop a united action plan - a road map. Formulate work plans, establish timelines, and designate leaders. One of the components of the action plan has to be, in my opinion, the establishment of a focused international anti-Putin campaign.

We will require an absolutely new perspective on NATO and the EU as centers of consolidation of North Atlantic security systems. This will require an action plan to establish at least two common spaces between Europe and the US: one in the economic arena and the other in the security arena. It means all members of this system will have to seriously accept the responsibilities of membership. The irresponsible behavior of some of today's member-states of NATO and the EU should be deemed unacceptable.

And finally: the US must assume leadership. It's a challenge for the US, a country that will either reaffirm its world leadership or lose it. Only the US can breathe new life into the ideals of freedom, democracy, honest economic development and security in the world.

All of us in Europe, in the US, in Asia should stand in defense of these values. All of us should understand our mutual responsibility for their defense.

I see Ukraine as an integral part of this democratic space. Right now there are many possibilities to achieve this. But the West has to be more active in helping us. If I were in the leadership of NATO, I would immediately offer Ukraine the Membership Action Plan. We need an immediate Marshall Plan for Ukraine. This is not for the sake of creating a buffer zone between the West and Russia. Rather it is to help Ukraine join the Western civilized space as quickly as possible. At that point the days of the Eurasian Empire will be numbered.

 

In this we have a common interest.

 

 

 

03.03.2015 22:38:00